Women's All Stars eye big start to year
Two long-serving regulars from the women's Indigenous v NRL All Stars fixture, Sam Hammond and Nakia Davis-Welsh, are primed to feature in yet another pre-season fixture to kick off what will be a massive year for the women's game.
While teams haven't been finalised yet, Jillaroos fullback Sam Hammond is set to feature in her sixth All Stars line-up while Indigenous five-eighth and NSW Origin utility Nakia Davis-Welsh is readying for her fourth appearance – despite still being just 20 years old.
The women's fixture will feature as one half of a double header with the men's game; the Feb 10 event at Newcastle's McDonald Jones Stadium will see the occasion played outside Queensland for the first time.
Hammond told NRL.com the match gets more exciting each year and will only get tougher as the concentration of Jillaroos squad members in the All Stars side gets evened out as more and more Indigenous All Stars players earn Jillaroos call-ups.
"Every year we say the same thing – it just feels like one of the hardest games we've played," Hammond said.
"The most exciting thing at the moment is we have plenty of Indigenous girls that are so skilful that have come into our Jillaroos squad and they've just been playing so well in their indigenous side and they are getting stronger.
"We never go in with the attitude we're going to be more dominant, we get just as nervous every year and next tear won't be any different to that."
Davis-Welsh was particularly excited to play the fixture for the first time in Newcastle, where she went to school.
"I'm from Kempsey on the mid-north coast but went to high school from year 7 to 12 in Newcastle," said Davis-Welsh, whose father Paul Davis played 40 games for Balmain in the early 90s alongside names like Steve Roach, Paul Sironen, Ben Elias, Garry Jack and Tim Brasher.
Davis-Welsh moved to Sydney after her schooling and is heading into her second season with the Redfern All Blacks while also working in an administrative role at Native Title in Redfern and grew up with rugby league in her blood.
"I grew up playing park footy with my older brother and cousins and friends then went from there, played at school," Davis Welsh said.
"I played Aboriginal knockouts then I went from that to the comp level down here in Sydney then I went to rep."
She is also clearly passionate about the All Stars fixture.
"I love it. Every year is different, the team varies but it's the same thing once we get into camp together we're sisters," she added.
Hammond said while the All Stars fixture will be a huge event again, it's just the start of what will be a massive year for the women's game which also features the Auckland Nines, Origin, inaugural Tarsha Gale Nines and the end-of-year World Cup.
"Our main focus for next year is ultimately the World Cup at the end of the year," Hammond said.
"What helps us when we play big games like that is support and the good thing about getting more coverage as the years go on and as the games go by is, the more people that watch us the more support we seem to get and the better we perform.
"There is a lot happening. We went into training in Queensland a month ago for the Jillaroos squad and we're on a program all the way through Christmas into the new year and it will go all the way to December 2nd next year for the final of the World Cup.
"It's a huge calendar and we're all being educated on how to be the fittest and strongest and healthiest we can be throughout the year to give ourselves the best chances to play in all those games."